Why we do it

As I read some pretty bad final essays (and some good ones), it is always tempting to wonder whether my work makes any difference.

This semester, for the last writing forum, I did not have students post their essay drafts, as I usually do. Since they had started their essays earlier this time, I simply didn’t want to see them again. Instead, I had a discussion questions, something like:


Although I was clearly asking for reflection about the discipline, I instead got a zillion posts evaluating the class. I was surprised.


And one very much stood out, from Rachel Brawner, one of my US history students (used by permission):


Once I had a student ask me, on the first day of class, “What are you going to do to make history interesting for me?” I replied that I hoped that the materials I was assigning were inherently interesting, and that engaging them would be the key. He scoffed, but at the end of the class told me I had been right. The materials, especially the primary source book I had edited, kept him engaged.

I had another student tell me that this workbook (my primary source collection for modern US history) was a book of “activist documents”. I had never thought of that before – I had simply collected sources (maybe 5 for each weekly unit, edited down) that I thought represented the period. When I looked at the collection more critically, I realized he was right. My sources for that class are all about the people making change, or show the reason why they had to.

And now a student has taken that and gone from pessimism to optimism about our country while writing an essay.

Providing a place, and some information, to change someone’s mind – that’s why we do it.